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“Symbols of the Season: Shepherds”
Luke 2:15-18


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service II—December 9, 2009

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them . . . And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.’”

We’ve heard this old, familiar story so many times, we may not realize that one of the most powerful indicators of the authenticity of these events is that Luke records the angels first appearing to “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  In the ancient world, shepherds were as far down on the social scale as you could get—dirty, smelly, outcasts from society.   Among Hebrews they were also looked down on as notorious sinners, because  they were not often able to attend synagogue or the ceremonies at the temple.

So, if you were writing a mythical version of the Messiah’s birth, the last group that you would put in the role of the first recipients of this Good News would be shepherds.  We take it for granted that, “The first noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” But, for many in the ancient world reading this story for the first time, that was a real shocker, totally unrealistic and unbelievable to them.  “Shepherds?   You’re telling me that God had the angels first appear to announce this Good News to a bunch of shepherds?”

But, this is not just a made-up tale.  These events all really transpired, and Luke records the angels appearing to the lowly shepherds because that’s how it really happened.  God is the director of this reality show, and it was for a deeply symbolic reason that he chose to first announce the Good News to “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  Jesus puts it this way, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The shepherds symbolize all of us, and our unworthiness.  As the book of Romans says, “There is no one righteous, not even one . . .  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  If God was like Santa Claus, “making a list, checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty and nice,” he would have never sent his Son as first Christmas gift.  For, none of us is holy, or worthy, or deserving.  But, that’s what Christmas is all about.  He came to make you holy, and worthy, and deserving of eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. . .  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Amen.

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